Another exoplanet imaged?

By Phil Plait | November 21, 2008 9:03 am

Another planet orbiting a sunlike star has been directly detected by imaging… maybe. Here’s the image:

The possible planet orbiting Beta Pictoris is labeled. Click to embiggen. Image credit: ESO.

In this infrared image (taken at 3.6 microns, about 5 times the wavelength the human eye can see), the planet is the labeled point of light. Image processing techniques have negated the light from the star, revealing the glowing tell-tale of the planet. But, like the previous planet seen circling Fomalhaut, this image needs a bit more explanation!

The star in question is β (beta) Pictoris, or just β Pic. It’s about 64 light years away, and is far younger and a little bit hotter than the Sun. It has a disk of protoplanetary debris circling it, and from our angle we see it almost exactly edge-on, so the disk looks like a thick line bisecting the star. We’ve known about the disk since the 1980s.

But the disk is a little weird. There are actually two disks: the main one, and a much fainter, thinner one tilted a bit — you can just make out the edges of it in the picture, to the left of the upper part of the main disk, and to the right of the main disk in the lower part. The main disk is also not symmetric; it stretches more on one side of the star than the other. There are also some features in it, what look like they are rings of material (but we see them edge-on too, so they are difficult to discern). All of this points to a disrupting influence on the disk, and that implies a big ol’ planet in there somewhere.

The problem is finding it! The star is very bright (easily seen by the unaided eye in the southern hemisphere) and so any planet would be washed out. But astronomers using the Very Large (8 meter) Telescope have found something that is suspiciously like a planet. They very carefully subtracted the image of the star from itself (there are several techniques to do this) to reveal any faint blips that might remain, and voila! There it is.

It’s a strong signal, so it’s definitely real. But is it a planet? It might be a foreground or background object. The best way to know is to wait a year or two and take more images. If it is a planet, it will move across the sky along with the star. If it’s a galaxy, it won’t. Until we take more images, we won’t know for sure.

However, note that it is aligned with the disk! That’s a very strong (though circumstantial) piece of evidence that this truly is a planet. If I had to bet, I’d say it’s the real thing. If it is, it’s about 8 times the mass of Jupiter and about 8 times farther from the star than the Earth is from the Sun (somewhat less than the distance Saturn is from the Sun). The possible mass was determined using the brightness of the object; we know the star is about 12 million years old, and any planet that young will still be glowing from the heat of its formation — in this case, at about 1200 Celsius. It’s brightness and color depends on its mass, so the mass can be determined.

If this pans out, it will be the fourth planet directly imaged around a sun-like star. Incredible!

Remember, if it is a planet, it’s not Earth-like at all. It’s yet another super-Jupiter, and incredibly hot. But it’s a planet.

Let me reiterate what I said in my last post on this topic. Trying to see faint objects near stars in astronomical images is phenomenally tough work. I spent weeks working on Hubble data to do this very thing, and it’s mind-numbing, slow, meticulous, and difficult work. Subtracting a star’s light from the image is really hard (one of the best pieces of software I ever wrote figured out the exact center of a star’s image so another star’s image could be used to subtract it, in fact) and if you’re off by even a fraction of a pixel it won’t work. This potential planet is deep in the bright part of β Pic’s glow, yet they were able to see it clearly after processing, and that’s an achievement all by itself.

I spent many months hoping to end up with a picture like this, and it is fantastically cool to see this dream finally come true — especially with such a famous and well-studied target like β Pic. It’s a great milestone, and my congratulations to astronomer Anne-Marie Lagrange and her team who were able to tease out this prize!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (47)

  1. Awesome work!

    Pretty soon this is going to be routine.

    Next huge step: being able to optically resolve a planet as more than just a point of light. It would be amazing to see gas clouds and/or land formations on exoplanets.

    I’m guessing that won’t happen anytime soon though.

  2. But… how are we going to knoe if β Pictoris b is a planet if we don’t know what a planet is in first place! :P

    Anyway, great news!!

  3. Alan Stern

    It’s not a planet says the IAU! It hasn’t cleared its zone and it doesn’t orbit the Sun. Of course, we all know Beta Pic b is planet. Who needs the IAU?

  4. Well this one’s a closer analogue to our own solar system than the HR 8799 or Fomalhaut detections: the planet is located at roughly the same distance (after scaling for luminosity) from Beta Pictoris as Jupiter is from the Sun. Rather massive though.

    As the discovery paper states, the 8 Jupiter masses figure is based on cooling models which have no empirical calibration at this kind of mass range. Modelling of the disk properties, which led to the prediction of the planet’s existence suggested a lower mass around 2-5 Jupiter masses. It will thus be very interesting to get an independent mass measurement and orbit determination: this will be easier than for Fomalhaut’s planet or the system around HR 8799 because the orbital period is likely much shorter.

    It also looks like this announcement was rushed out as a result of the Fomalhaut and HR 8799 release: the observations were made in 2003, so it seems as if they were waiting to get better confirmation of orbital motion and rushed out the paper to prevent getting scooped on the discovery. (As is pointed out in the paper, this may take a while as it is currently predicted to be too close to Beta Pictoris to be able to be detected).

    If confirmed, this leaves Vega as the last of the IRAS “Fabulous Four” (Vega, Fomalhaut, Beta Pictoris, Epsilon Eridani) remaining without a planet detection. I guess it might be only a matter of time now… there have been predictions made based on the shape of the dust disk that there should be a planet orbiting Vega on an elliptical orbit.

  5. BMcP

    I am curious, what is the large blue circle with the black outline representing? It isn’t the section being blocked out since the possible planet is well inside it.

  6. BMcP

    @GumbyTheCat

    This may get ‘routine’ but that next great leap, finding near earth sized, rocky worlds, well be even more exciting, by a order of magnitude. :)

  7. PG

    @GumbyTheCat: In my opinion, the next big step will be to get spectra of these objects. This means subtracting out the star’s light in many images taken at wavelengths of light across parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. If we can find out what they are made of by looking at the tell-tale fingerprints of molecules and atoms in the light they reflect in those images, we will be much closer to being able to find an Earth-like world and confirming it. We don’t necessarily need to resolve the image to see if a planet has an oxygen-based atmosphere, for example.

  8. Annette

    A great find. Although this is completely awesome news, it seems that the only planets we are finding are those still young and hot or the gas giants. Is it possible to find earth-like planets with our current technology (and we just haven’t been lucky enough to get one in our sights) or do we need more sophisticated telescopes? Every time I see one of these posts I keep hoping that it is a rocky planet at the very least.

  9. Annette

    Andy said: “If confirmed, this leaves Vega as the last of the IRAS ‘Fabulous Four’ (Vega, Fomalhaut, Beta Pictoris, Epsilon Eridani) remaining without a planet detection. ”

    Jodie Foster already confirmed a planet around Vega… only her stupid camera recorded 18 hours of static on it.

  10. Quiet Desperation

    I first read the title as “Another exoplanet imagined?” and I thought Phil was going all skeptical about the existence of exoplanet evidence.

  11. In my opinion, the next big step will be to get spectra of these objects.

    PG, hasn’t that already been done, at least in one case? I thought I remembered reading that an exoplanet was discovered to contain methane in its atmosphere by looking at its spectra. Maybe I’m mistaken, I don’t know.

  12. The inner circle is the part seen by the VLT. The outer part was imaged by a different telescope, and the two put together to show a more complete picture of the system. The caption to the image on the ESO site explains this.

  13. Skeptic Tim

    “If this pans out, it will be the fourth planet directly imaged around a sun-like star.”

    Phil; I think it’s really the fifth planet imaged: 1 around Fomalhaut and three in the system around HR 8799: that makes 4, plus beta Pictoris. Hopefully, soon there will be more!

  14. Lagrange? Pretty cool name for an astronomer.

    But apart from that, I just can say that I’m glad to be alive and witness this. It’s awesome!

  15. Martin

    Five points to Lagrange!

  16. Skeptic Tim, the third one around HR8799 may not yet be confirmed, last I heard. I’m not sure what’s up with that one. And Gumby, the one you link to has not been confirmed either.

  17. As for the list of previously-imaged planets, what about CHXR 73B and DH Tau B? These may be under 13 Jupiter masses – see Luhman et al. (2006), Astrophysical Journal 649, 894 – however they were typically referred to as brown dwarfs so received less media attention.

  18. As for the third planet of HR 8799 (presumably you’re referring to the innermost one, HR 8799d), according to the discovery paper orbital motion has been observed (though over a shorter interval of time than planets b and c), so not sure why it would be regarded as unconfirmed – any reference for that assertion?

  19. IVAN3MAN

    ABOUT THIS IMAGE: Separate B, V, and I ratio images taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys support the notion that the inner warp surrounding the nearby star Beta Pictoris is a secondary dust disk, distinct from the main outer dust disk and inclined from it by roughly 4 to 5 degrees.

    Beta Pictoris multi-band image
    Click on the picture for more images.
  20. Sili

    Martin,

    :golfclap:

  21. dumb guy

    This is all really cool, but a question from a commoner…

    When will we be able to see a true color, within the range of human eyesight, photo of an exoplanet?

    Will it ever happen?

  22. gopher65

    I’m curious as to what a planet like this would look like in the visual range. Would it have a diffuse red glow on the parts of it facing away from the sun? 1200 degrees is pretty hot.

  23. Using Spectro-analysis of light reflecting (refracting) from a planet, from its sun,(with potential for life as Earth) can a photo-analysis of microscopic portions of the photons (perhaps also using photonic-electron microscope techniques) reveal (from light reflecting), from its atmosphere, land mass and oceans, whether there are satellites in its orbit, solar mirrors and cells refracting light form its surface (land mass), and submarines in it oceans (light refracting off its perhaps ceramic, plastic or metal surface?

    Can optic induced photons with neutrinos, tacheyons, quarks, leptons (sub-atomic particles) and muons shot form a particles accelerate onto, on top and along, the light or photons streaming from the Big Bang, for and to help its (the optical induced photons) speed, location and distance (search) to other solar systems and galaxies for a close look (pictures) using the photo induced optics?

    Sincerely,

    Jason Pacifico

  24. PG

    GumbyTheCat: I do recall a gas-giant exoplanet whose spectrum was measured because it actually passed in front of its parent star from our point of view. I don’t recall any others yet, but I think it will be exciting when its routine to get spectra from these objects, especially the small ones.

  25. Grand Lunar

    I wonder; if we can manage so capture some exoplanets with Hubble, than I can imagine what the James Webb telescope might be able to do!
    Not that I hope to see the actual planet themselves, but rather to see even MORE exoplanets!

  26. Quoting the BA saying :

    “If this pans out, it will be the fourth planet directly imaged around a sun-like star. Incredible!”

    Actually by my count we have noless than SEVEN (of 9? ;-) ) exoplanets or cnadidate exoplanets imaged so far :


    1. Fomalhaut b
    2008 Nov Nearby bright star

    2. Beta Pictoris b
    2008 Nov. Nearby brightish star

    3. HR 8799 b,c & d
    Nov.2008 Distant Procyonese (?)(1.5 mass Solar) star with protoplanetary disk containg planets at 25,40 & 70 AU.

    4. 1 RSX J160929.1-210524
    K7 orange dwarf Sept 15th 8x Mass Jove 11 x Neptune’s distance (or 330 AU?)

    (NB.Click on my name for a link to this earlier BA thread complete with a link added back tothe Fomalhaut b & HR 8799 one there.)

    5.2M 1207b
    or in full 2 MASSW J1207334-393254 imaged April 27th 2004 around a brown dwarf, a 5 Jupiter-mass exoplanet or perhaps brown dwarf this planet orbits 55 AU from its brown dwarf sun.

    6.GQ Lupi b
    2004ish (?) Probable brown dwarf 1-42 mJ @100 AU

    7. AB Pictoris b
    2003 March (earliest but probable brown dwarf) 250 AU out.

    Now okay several of them may end up being classified as brown dwrafs and those in protoplanetary disks suffer from perhaps being technically ineligable by the idiocy of the IAU’s anti-Pluto “clearance” balony* criterion but still ..

    Its all very awesome, impressive & amazing news ewsp. the recentstring of discoveries and images. :-D 8) :-)

    Well it is to me at least, I love hearing about exoplanets and frankly I don’t know why more isn’t made of such discoveries of entirely new planets around other stars by the media and wider community.

    Thanks BA for keeping us updated. Great posts for great findings! :-)

    —–

    * If you ask me the IAU can go jump in the lake here – a planet’s a planet wherever it is – whether it orbits in a protoplanetary disk or our own Edgeworth-Kuiper disk or Oort cloud. I hope the IAU soon correct this mistake restore Pluto,Eris and other dwrafs to full planetary status and stop being such a laughing stock and disgrace to astronomers everywhere.

  27. $#@@!#@$#@!#$% typos! Wisjh we could edit. Grrr. :-(

  28. In case folks missed it on the other thread here’s a bit of a poem on the recent exoplanet findings to celeberate the current run of exoplanet successes :

    ___The Find around Beta Pic See_
    By Steven C. Raine, Nov. 2008

    Look there in “the warped disk” & you’ll see
    A dot size of Jupiter, gee!
    There’s a planet within
    A speck causing grins
    Coz that’s the world Beta Pic b!

    Astronomers searched everywhere
    For year after year after year
    IRAS found disks
    but now we’ve found ground
    Well deep under clouds now yippee!

    Its follows on Fomalhaut b
    Jove’s mass but past Neptune’s dist see
    But the orbits not clear
    So sob in your beer
    Its gone just like Pluto oh dear!

    But never mind mess around globes
    Or that they turn up in their droves
    A planets a planet y’know
    So Pluto can stay and not go!

    Yes Pluto, Beta Pic & Fomalhaut b
    And round HR 8799 three
    We’re finding new worlds
    Enough for all boys and girls
    And we celebrate all with great glee!
    :-)

    (Yes this has been updated. Hope y’all enjoy it.)

  29. PG said on Nov. 21st, 2008 at 4:14 pm :

    “GumbyTheCat: I do recall a gas-giant exoplanet whose spectrum was measured because it actually passed in front of its parent star from our point of view. I don’t recall any others yet, but I think it will be exciting when its routine to get spectra from these objects, especially the small ones.”

    You’re probably thinking of ‘Osiris’ or HD 209458 b :

    In 1999 this became the first Hot Jupiter found by the transiting technique – detecting a transit of the planet like transits of Mercury & Venus in own solar system and the first to have atmosphere detected – a huge cloud of hydrogen and sodium was found to be “boiling” off this exoplanets surface. This led to its nickname by astronomers of “Osiris” after a dismembered Egyptian God. HD 209458 b is located in Pegasus 150 light years away and circles its star every 3.5 days.

    Or perhaps HD 183733 b :

    The first exoplanet where water has been detected – albeit only superheated water vapour in the atmosphere of a HotJupiter! Around August 2007 a team of astronomers led by Giovanni Tinetti used the Spitzer infra-red telescope to study this exoplanet located 64 light years away and found it’s atmosphere was absorbing starlight at key wavelengths indicating water vapour was present. HD 189733 b is a transiting HotJupiter practically scraping the surface of its star as its “year” is a mere 2.2 days! Hints of water were earlier suggested bit less strongly from previous studies of HD 209458 b or “Osiris.” HD 189733 b was also roughly mapped and found to have a massive hotspot on its surface twice the size of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot lying 30 degrees from the sub-stellar point directly facing its sun and baking at a sweltering 925 degrees Celsius. This suggests powerful winds redistribute the heat through the cloudtops and this is backed up with the high temperatures on this exoplanets night side of 650 degrees Celsius – a day-night difference of 260 degrees.

    Or even HD 20945 b another Hot Jupiter found to be evapourating away like a comet as noted on the space.com article “How to Destroy a Giant Planet” by Robert Roy Britt – click on my name for a link to that source. (Hopefully it’ll even work! ;-) )

    Essentially any Jovian or Superjovian world within 0.15 AU or 24 million km of its star becoems unstable and starts to boil and fume its atmosphere away. All Hot Jupiters may be doomed! :-o

  30. By the way when are these worlds going to get proper names? Starcatalogue designations are tolerable if bland and unappealing (stilleasilyconfusedand unmemorable) on paper but raise major problems in communicating verbally.

    I mean HR 8799 is prounounced how? Aitch Arr eight thousand seven hundredand ninety-nine? Eight-seven-nine-nine? Eighty Seven, ninety-nine? Or what? You really think people are going to say One R ecks Ess J numerals, etc.. etc .. ad nauseam … ??

    Lets set a limit of no more than three numerals – four at very most – in any significant star name and start giving historic or significant star discoveries proper memorable reasonable names eg. ‘Osiris’ for 209458 b, Antihelios for PSR B 1257+12, ‘Bellopheron’ for 51 Peg b etc ..

    Maybe scientist are okay with strings of numerals or celestial co-ordinates substituting for real names but most ordinary folks aren’t and it makes things harder to communicate and relate to for the general public. Which hurts astronomy in the end. If tiny moonlets of Saturn and Jupiter can carry proper names then I see no reason why superjovian planets around distant stars need to be deprived of them. Ok not every exoplanet (& host star) needs “real” naming – but the key one’s I think do.

    Also do these distant Jovian gas giant / Superjovian boarderline brown dwarfs orbiting 100′s of AU from their stars raise the prospects of a distant Jupiter or even SuperJupiter in our own solar system perhaps playing the suggested comet-disturbing Nemesis role?

    Of course, if a Jupiter or superJupiter type world is discovered in our Edgeworth-Kuiper disk or Oort cloud region then technically the IAU will be forced to deem it a “dwarf planet” .. as technically applies to Beta Pic b, Fomalhaut b and the exoplanets of HR 8799. Illustrating yet again just how absurd and stupid their anti-Pluto “orbital clearance” criterion really is. :-(

  31. PG, thanks for taking the time to help me out, much appreciated.

  32. Oh, and thank you as well, StevoR.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the next big step will be to get spectra of these objects.

    Coincidentally, I just saw the announcement of the first detection of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet:

    The fact that the carbon dioxide compounds were identified in relatively low-resolution spectra, comments theorist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., “represents the proof-of-concept for what we would hope to look for when characterizing the atmospheres of extrasolar Earths with a Terrestrial Planet Finder-type space telescope.”

    The new finding “means that three of the Big Four biomarkers for habitable/inhabited worlds have now been seen: water, methane and now carbon dioxide,” Boss says. “The only one that has not yet been detected is oxygen/ozone.”

    @ Alan:

    If this pans out, it will be the fourth planet directly imaged around a sun-like star.

    It’s not a planet says the IAU!

    GumbyTheCat has mentioned that we may have 6 candidates around sunlike stars. Now, as I remember it, IAU’s definition isn’t supposed to cover exoplanets. But if you are dead set to make the analogy surely Fomalhaut b is an exoplanet ‘planet’ that has cleared its orbit, as it AFAIU is responsible for the cutoff of the visible debris disk?

    And it’s iffy to understand the significance of the parts in the Beta Pictoris image consisting of superposed and processed parts, but it sure looks to me like Beta Pictoris ‘b’ may be another one.

  34. @Phil Plait and @StevoR:
    Steve, great point, and this is what I tried to get Phil to address on Digg the first day Fomalhaut b was announced. I just named a rock’n'roll album “Fomalhaut b” because astrophysicists are too busy with astrophysics to Digg calista flockhart’s transparent blouse, repeated car commercial shouts, and ridiculous quiries from egotistical indie musicians. I can’t say I really blame the astrophysicists.

    Phil: If the Jovian system is any indication, how likely is it that we’ll find moon-sized or even planet-sized satellites of Super-Jupiters like “b” (I swear to god I’ll name it myself if you geniuses don’t get poetic REAL soon! Mozart wrote “twinkle twinkle” at age 11. Maybe you astronomers prefer to defer to a self-important standards commitee (“I have NO time to discuss it as a committee!”…”I AM NOT A COMMITTEE!!!!”) who plays headgames with Pluto, but we poets and musicians have a LONG tradition of hanging names on faraway objects that we can only touch in a song… NOT a threat, just a promise…)
    If these other star systems have the same sort of debris torus that Fomalhaut clearly shows, then what are the odds we might even find an ocean moon brimming with life orbiting one of these amazing new worlds? I’d be willing to bet a month’s income on Europa myself, for starters…
    “Twinkle, twinkle…”

  35. Steve A

    @Annette

    What you are asking is the ultimate winner of the exoplanet search. So far, the methods can’t determine earth like planets because they don’t perturb the system enough. We do need better telescopes, but they are on the way as we speak. More than any other, I’m placing my bets on the Kepler space telescope, that right now is in the final stages before launch next March. The telescope has gone through vacuum testing to make sure all the systems will work in space. The rocket itself is being prepared in Florida.

    Kepler’s main mission is to find exoplanets, especially earth-like ones, but others are working on it so I’m assuming once we hear one and the technique is refined, we’ll see them pop all over the place. Already, people are determining how to detect moons around these exoplanets using the wobble technique. Just as cool, scientists are trying to figure out what Earth would look like to an alien telescope to try to find the same type of signals in other planets. The next few years should be great.

  36. No worries Gumby the Cat -I just love discussing this sorta stuff! Perhaps too much but that’s another story .. ;-)

    Cloan : thanks -glad to see I’m not alone in this regard.

    Could we hear the ‘Fomalhaut b’ song somehere, please? Sounds interetsing. Ifanyone wants to use my little piece of doggrel (ie. that “Finding of Fomalhaut b” poem posted above on here) for anything btw. feel free to do so also. :-)

    Torbjorn Larsson OM wrote :

    “But if you are dead set to make the analogy
    [& yes I sure am! - Ed!] surely Fomalhaut b is an exoplanet ‘planet’ that has cleared its orbit, as it AFAIU is responsible for the cutoff of the visible debris disk? And it’s iffy to understand the significance of the parts in the Beta Pictoris image consisting of superposed and processed parts, but it sure looks to me like Beta Pictoris ‘b’ may be another one.”

    Yes but is its orbit actually cleared? What the blazes does “cleared” actually mean anyhow? I mean technically, as I’ve noted before comets and asteroids cross all our planets paths – does that make them not clear and not planets? Can there ever even be any such thing as a “planet” under the stupidity of that IAU “orbital clearance” rule – which was deliberately imposed for the sole purpose of kicking out Pluto? Its just such a nonsense -and it doesn’t even apply to exoplanets showing just how inadequate and silly the IAU definition is. :-(

    (So what exactly does the IAU call these new found worlds I wonder? Dwarf planets? Clasical planets? Stark inconvenient facts that destroy the IAu’s decrees maybe? ) ;-)

    I honestly think the IAU are doing themselves and astronomers worldwide a real disservice and making themselves and us all appear very foolish. :-(

    I also really think the wider astronomical community needs to get them to reverse their anti-Pluto definition and replace it with something more reasonable – sooner rather than later.

    Can we astronomers cast a vote of no-confidence in the IAU leadership and replace them or something? Anyone know?

  37. Cloan oops, meant to put your name in bold there too!

    How I wish we could just EDIT or even preview these posts – for the umpeteenth time .. Sigh :-(

    Exoplanet tally -wise :

    Fomalhaut b, Beta Pictoris b, HR 8799 (Or shall we call it “Harry”?) b & c & d are all confirmed imaged exoplanets I understand so that’s five certyain ones right?

    Or, wait a minute, is Beta Pic b not so certain? Leaving four planets in two exoplanetary systems.

    We’ve also got 2 M 1207 b (the brown dwarf one from 2004 – shall we call it “Twelver”? ) which seems pretty definitely imaged and an exoplanet with very small uncertainties. Safe enough to add to that list? So five planets in three systems then? (HR 8799 – 3, Fomalhaut-1, 2M1207 -1)

    Or shall we also count the likely planet of that K7 orange drwaf 1 RSX J numerals (Oh call it ‘Rissex’ or something for pity’s sake please!) making six planets, four systems ..

    Or do we go the whole hog and add in GQ Lupi (“GiQueLupis? Giquelupe?”) and Ab Pictoris (“Abpict”? Or just “Fred”? ;-) ) too even though they may well be brown dwarfs and NOT planets which would make a grand total of eight planets in six exoplanetary systems ..?

    Exciting times and fantastic work by the teams involved however we count them and certainly we’re doing better in this area than I expected to see in my lifetime already! :-)

  38. Peter

    Is it possible that planets are the natural outgrowth of star development and all stars probably have them? Curious.

  39. Mick

    Hmmm… the LHC will, in spite of its regretable delay, be active next year hopefully. And we will discover, hopefully, new insights into the fundamental workings of the universe. Maybe even get a true grasp on why it is like it is for the first time. Perhaps leading to insights we haven’t conceived yet. And that might seem silly now because of the gaps in our knowledge.

    And in the mean time we might soon discover earth-like worlds as well.

    I wonder if knowing what we still do not know about physics will allow us to see loopholes to reach those worlds.

    But maybe its to soon, I wouldn’t want humans in their current state unleashed upon other planets. Humans are to greedy, irresponsible and destructive. Look at what the overpopulating humans did to their own poor homeworld!

    So if there is a possibility to travel to other stars, then I hope humans don’t discover it if/until they become a more responsible species.

  40. Steve A

    @Peter

    All? Probably not. Likely? That is being looked at now. The main issue is we don’t have a handle on how our own solar system formed. Its therefore hard to gauge how typical our system is. So right now our understanding is based on the systems we find these exoplanets around and computer simulations. While I’m a big fan of them, you have to watch out for simulations because their assumptions can cause certain outcomes to be more likely. For instance, at the time the Fomalhaut planet was found, simulations showed that A type stars are likely to form ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. Only time will tell how accurate that is. The more we learn about our own system, the better we will be at predicting.

  41. Geez. Is this standard now? Every “Just Another Planet imaged!” article has now IAU-planet-trolls, spewing same nonsense as always. Sigh.

    Funny to see same old “arguments” and misconceptions repeated over and over, ignoring answers and counterarguments, and debunking (for example this damn “clearing orbit”, will this beating of a strawman ever end?).

    This is exactly same standards as, say, creationists. Nice to be among people with similiar mindset, eh StevoR?

  42. lou lewis

    i’m sorry, but the picture shown appears to be an artists impression, not a photo

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 45 MaDeR :

    Its not nonsense or trolling and you just falsely accusing me (I used to comment as StevoR for those who don’t already know) of that doesn’t make it true.

    The IAU definition is illogical and dumb for a number of good reasons incl. violating Occam’s Razor by adding a needless and hard to define extra condition simply to exclude the ice dwarfs from planetary classification.

    Blazes, the IAU definition even ignores exoplanets as well as Pluto restricting planets by definition to our Solar system.

    Yes, MaDeR, I will continue to point out the idiocy – as Alan Stern correctly described it – of the IAU’s rubbish definition of planet whenever its appropriate. :-P

    How anyone can defend the IAU’s illogical, unsatisfactory and, I think we’ll find, temporary aberration of a definition is beyond me. Perhaps, MaDeR, instead of throwing insults about you might want to actually consider my and other peoples arguments on this and then rethink your position on this topic?

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